Category Archives: Articles by Hawco

Go Back to the Abyss Prepared for You

By Hawco

It’s the holidays again, and the movie gods have decided that, for another three-year stretch, Middle-earth mania shall once again reign supreme next to jingling bells and wrapping paper. On December 13, the next chapter comes out, which I have christened The Hobbit 2: The Middle One, officially (and less originally) titled The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

 

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This is the second film in a bloated trilogy, a trilogy made up of nine hours of fluff unceremoniously ripped from a slim, 300-page children’s book. Almost nothing from the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was actually in the book, and the characters have been changed from their iterations in the source material. Both of these problems plagued Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and really were all that prevented it from earning the title of “masterpiece.” Returning writer/director Peter Jackson failed to realize this (which probably has something to do with the distraction of the approximate $3 billion worldwide box office take for that trilogy) and returning co-writers Fran Wash and Philippa Boyens haven’t changed their altering ways.  So the Hobbit trilogy, under the exact same leadership, is failing in the same ways The Lord of the Rings did.

But, good or bad or bloated or nonsensical, the Hobbit films should not exist in the first place.  New Line is ending at the start, telling a story with no stakes. Everyone has already seen The Lord of the Rings, and nothing in The Hobbit matters nearly as much as the events of that previous trilogy. The audience already knows that hero Bilbo (Martin Freeman) will survive The Hobbit, already knows that the magic ring he finds will turn out to be the evil, all-powerful One Ring, already knows that Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) will have to go on a successful quest to destroy it, already knows that wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) will lead the successful war against the true bad guy, the dark lord Sauron.

So the real reason these films are coming out is the money, not the story. These Tolkien adaptations make money (again, over $1 billion worldwide for An Unexpected Journey) and – sadly – no studio is crazy enough to actually try to bring The Silmarillion to the big screen (article here).  So, we get three movies out of The Hobbit.  At the most, we should have had one, and it should have been released in 1999.

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About the author:

Steve Hawco spent too many hours in the shadow-strewn offices and steamy alleys of 1941 San Francisco. After suffering one too many double-crosses in his search for a black figure of a bird, he decided to put his fedora away and enter the sunny world of Rant Pad criticism. His favorite films include Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Sunshine. He’s an occasional guest commentator on our podcast, and he also has Kind of a Movie Blog.

Another disappointing summer?

By Hawco

 

2013-summer-movies

 

And so, another summer movie season has come and gone.  With August 9′s Elysium, the 2013 season of blockbusters has officially ended.  I would argue that it was another disappointing summer.

My biggest emotional investment rested in Man of Steel (June 14), and that film was the biggest letdown of the year for me.  I cared less about Iron Man 3 (May 3), the kickoff movie of the season, and while I enjoyed it, it in no way distinguished itself from the dozens of comic book movies that have been made since 2000.  Star Trek Into Darkness (May 15), like its predecessor, was unnecessary and derivative.  The best blockbuster of the summer, for me, was Pacific Rim (July 12).

No, I didn’t see every blockbuster this summer; I never do.  But I do catch up with them eventually.  And this trend of sloppy, shallow, horribly written movies with immaculate special effects doesn’t change.  Think about the movies with the biggest hype from the last few years and consider how many of them were actually memorable for any reason other than effects.  Remember The Dark Knight Rises(2012), Battleship (2012), Green Lantern (2011), Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (2011), The A-Team (2010), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)?

Thankfully, there were some great blockbusters sprinkled throughout these years (like Inception, 2010).  I acknowledge that, and if I am dismissing any of your favorite movies with my list above, comment and tell me why I am wrong.  But I have found so many of these action blockbusters to be worthless, a waste of money, not even worth $8 on Blu-ray to show off my home theater setup.

What do you think?  And how were the 2013 blockbusters that I missed?  Did The Wolverine (July 26) justify its own existence?  Was The Lone Ranger (July 3) as awful as it looked?

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About the author:

Steve Hawco spent too many hours in the shadow-strewn offices and steamy alleys of 1941 San Francisco. After suffering one too many double-crosses in his search for a black figure of a bird, he decided to put his fedora away and enter the sunny world of Rant Pad criticism. His favorite films include Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Sunshine. He’s an occasional guest commentator on our podcast, and he also has Kind of a Movie Blog.

You’re Going to Kill Him for Me: Defending Zero Dark Thirty

By Hawco

 

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I wrote an article for the Rant Pad a few months ago, explaining that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was my favorite movie of 2012. I loved it, but the amount of problems with its script made it clear to me that it couldn’t have actually been the best movie of the year, the most well-crafted. And I wouldn’t claim it as the best film of the year when I hadn’t even seen most of the Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture.

Now that we are well into 2013, I would like to change my answer on both counts. Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is the best film I’ve seen in years.

My colleagues at Buried Cinema discussed Zero Dark Thirty on the podcast, and their views were barely charitable at best. None of them said that the movie belonged on their respective Top 10 lists. I would like to defend the film largely as if I were present to respond on the podcast, but a general defense is also appropriate, in light of the amount of hate thrown at the film under shaky pretenses.

Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden from the perspective of CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain).  Through tough times in Pakistan and bureaucratic barriers, Maya never gives up on the chase, even when her favorite lead seems to fall dead.  The film leaves Maya behind at the climax, as the evidence, followed through to her conclusion, leads Seal Team Six into bin Laden’s compound with a kill order.

On the podcast, there was a complaint about of a lack of emotional impact in everything leading up to the raid.  This is only true in the sense that this is not a drama about the effects of terrorism and war on individuals and families.  But the film’s tie to reality, its most powerful aspect, is what provides the emotion for the audience during the first 90 minutes.  Bigelow recreates terrorist attacks from the past decade, presenting them from an angle other than what the news media has.  And so the viewer feels a sense of dread and anticipation when the titles pop up on screen: Khobar, May 29, 2004; London, July 7, 2005; Islamabad, September 20, 2008, and so on.  Also, our identification with Chastain’s character affects us when her life is suddenly threatened or when she loses a friend to a terrorist bomb.

Buried Cinema also echoed the most common complaint leveled against Zero Dark Thirty, its morality.  This was presumably in reference to its depiction of torture used by CIA agents on terror suspects.  I can’t even begin to cover the amount of hate thrown at Zero Dark Thirty because of the torture scenes it contains, but I would like to point out that one of the main catalysts for the controversy was this December 2012 article in the left wing UK newspaper The Guardian, in which Glenn Greenwald bashes the film without ever having seen it.

Watch the film (again).  At no point does Bigelow suggest that torture is a positive thing, or that torturing suspects will solve all of the United State’s problems.  Yes, it is rough to watch, but it is supposed to be, and the torture Maya is involved in barely yields any clues.  The film’s realism dictates that it show you what happened; it doesn’t endorse a viewpoint on it.  The morality of that is beyond refute.

The whole film is intense, including the ending raid, which evokes the tone of a very tense action film.  The dark, grainy images of fully geared-up soldiers moving through the concrete compound, as unstoppable as a tide, are truly chilling.  At no point does Bigelow’s style draw attention to itself.  She wisely avoids the shaky-cam, found-footage style that has Hollywood inducing motion sickness left and right these days.  Instead, her camera stays out of the way and puts the audience in the drama.  The cinematography by Greig Fraser, likewise, goes for realism rather than comment.

It has harrowing realism, stunning production values, and amazing performances.  I have never seen a film like Zero Dark Thirty.  And neither have you.  Think of it what you will, but think.

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About the author:

Steve Hawco spent too many hours in the shadow-strewn offices and steamy alleys of 1941 San Francisco. After suffering one too many double-crosses in his search for a black figure of a bird, he decided to put his fedora away and enter the sunny world of Rant Pad criticism. His favorite films include Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Sunshine. He’s an occasional guest commentator on our podcast, and he also has Kind of a Movie Blog.

Enough Already: a Rant Pad rant

By Hawco

 

marc webb

 

I understand that many moviegoers can and do, in general, just relax and enjoy themselves no matter what film they are seeing. I often envy them. I guess I can’t shut off my critical brain sometimes.

I say all this because I have been struck by the horrible quality of Hollywood’s remakes over the last few years. This post isn’t expansive enough to lament the lack of originality in Hollywood overall; I won’t even begin to cover how most big-budget movies are sequels, remakes, or adaptations (and bad ones at that).

But I will briefly cover two recent offenders: Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. I caught up with The Amazing Spider-Man a year after its release, so I saw these two comic book adaptations for the first time within a month of each other.

There is no hope of Hollywood letting up on its deluge of comic movies; they simply make too much money. I have accepted this, yet my appetite for all these superheroes on screen was satiated by, like, 2008. The standard of quality for these blockbusters, particularly in the screenwriting, is just too low, and that is a double shame because all of these comics provide years and years of rich story material to adapt.

Amazing was widely recognized as a cash-grab. Sony pictures had to make another Spider-Man movie or lose the rights to the character. But this movie didn’t need to be made. It was an origin story. We just saw the same basic origin story ten years ago, with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002. Everything from the spider bite to the discovering of powers to young romance and Uncle Ben’s death was all seen, only with different performers in front of the lens and an (arguably) different tone. Spider-Man launched a trilogy that ended just five years before the remake. I was amazed (pun intended) at how similar The Amazing Spider-Man was overall to its predecessor.

Superman: The Movie (1978) is one of my favorite films of all time.  Directed by Richard Donner, it tells the story of Superman’s origin, including the destruction of his home world, his acquiring a job at the Daily Planet newspaper, his meeting love interest Lois Lane, and his discovering of his heritage and destiny. Snyder’s over-long and over-loud remake covers the same thing, only without any humor or subtlety. Why did audiences need to see this?

(And in defense of Superman Returns, that film was a love letter and a sequel, but it did not try to retell Superman’s origin.)

Am I off base, here?  Did anyone else feel that they were watching the exact same movie over again, only weaker?

Steve Hawco spent too many hours in the shadow-strewn offices and steamy alleys of 1941 San Francisco. After suffering one too many double-crosses in his search for a black figure of a bird, he decided to put his fedora away and enter the sunny world of Rant Pad criticism. His favorite films include Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Sunshine. He also has Kind of a Movie Blog.

A rant for 3D

By Hawco

I have a lot to say about the current trend of 3D video. As a home theater nerd, I have to have an opinion on it. I have a basic understanding of the various ways 3D is displayed, both in theaters and in the home. I know that if you purchase a 3D TV and glasses and enjoy the experience, you will still end up disappointed at the lack of available content, especially through cable/satellite providers. I know that, wherever you watch it, 3D glasses will limit the amount of light getting to your eye, thus detrimentally dimming the image.

 

 

I… love… 3D.  Despite its shortcomings, I believe it is spectacular when done correctly. 3D Blu-rays look almost as good as a theatrical presentation (see Prometheus), and video games on the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360 are twice as cool in 3D (see Uncharted 3).

However, Hollywood is killing me. 3D is being treated like a gimmick, and it has to stop. Here is the problem: movies are being shot in 2D and converted to 3D, without the proper care, in post-production. The results, in live-action movies, are always, always, underwhelming-to-embarrassing. Basically, the trend of Hollywood doing this so that they can charge moviegoers more money started soon after Avatar, with this hunk of garbage.

Unfortunately, I went to see Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel on opening night. But let’s not focus on that tragedy; the point was the 3D. It was flat. The post-conversion was garbage. It was a waste of money, both for Warner Bros. and audiences.

I have only seen three films in theaters (PrometheusTransformers: Dark of the Moon, and Avatar) that blew me away with their sense of immersion, depth, and tangibility thanks to 3D, and all of them were shot using James Cameron’s 3D cameras. Check out what he says if you don’t believe me that post-converted blockbusters aren’t up to par.

Steve Hawco spent too many hours in the shadow-strewn offices and steamy alleys of 1941 San Francisco. After suffering one too many double-crosses in his search for a black figure of a bird, he decided to put his fedora away and enter the sunny world of Rant Pad criticism. His favorite films include Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Sunshine. He also has Kind of a Movie Blog.

Our Favorite Films of 2012 — Prometheus

By Steve Hawco

 

 

I’m not going to bother making the case for Prometheus as the best film of the year, but it sure was my favorite. Ridley Scott’s officially unofficial prequel to his masterful Alien, Prometheus lacks the Hollywood glamour of Les Misérables and the real-world poignancy of Zero Dark Thirty, but it makes up for it with genuine chills and the best production design seen this year.

Scott works from a relatively anemic script by Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), telling a sci-fi tale of archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil). Exploring caves in 2089 Scotland, the ambitious couple discover evidence of extraterrestrial visitation to Earth. The star maps scratched onto the walls lead Shaw and Holloway and their team to a distant moon, dubbed LV-223, aboard a Weyland Corporation vessel, the Prometheus.

The explorers find structures on LV-223 that are clearly the result of intelligent design, and Shaw aggressively pursues her search for the origin of life on Earth, despite the dangers posed by the harsh environment and a mysterious organism. From here, the script leaves a lot to be desired, as our intelligent protagonists make idiotic, damning decisions and most of our questions are left unanswered. The biggest criticism leveled against Prometheus, understandably, has been the script, and the sins of Lindelof on one of the most ravenously devoured TV shows of all time haunt a movie that he didn’t even begin the writing for in the first place.

Hiring Lindelof may have been a glaring mistake, but thankfully it was Scott’s only one. The movie is a stunning example of art direction and special effects (a large percentage of which are practical effects rather than computer-generated), and the 3D cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean) shows off the slick costumes and props throughout. The set pieces are amazing, featuring a race by two of the characters across alien terrain while a huge spaceship crashes into the dirt at their heels, and an unholy birthing scene that makes a case for “scene of the year.”

 

 

Prometheus looked stunning in 3D, with amazing depth throughout, the highlight being the whole-room smartphone apps of the future which makes three-dimensional holograms all around the characters. I am happy to report that the 3D Blu-ray looks almost as good as the RealD theater presentation.

Top it off with a wonderful performance by the red-hot Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) as the android David, and you have one great movie in the sci-fi/horror genre. Just don’t ask for a satisfying conclusion to any question apart from, “How high will the body count get?”

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

What Do You See?: Danny Boyle’s Vexing Sunshine

Special Guest Writer

Steve Hawco

 

I often find it ironic that British director Danny Boyle has done so well critically over the last few years. Looking at his films and his personality, one can see his undeniable love for the cinema. Beginning with 1996′s raunchy Trainspotting, his first film to be well-known worldwide, I have enjoyed, if not loved, almost every film he has given to us. His ability to successfully approach radically different genres, from Horror in 28 Days Later (2002) to Comedy in Trainspotting, is a testament to his directing chops.

However, one aspect of his directing in which he rarely varies is his visual style, and it is in this that Boyle leaves himself open to criticism from the film establishment. Boyle’s style is of the MTV generation; he employs quick cutting, extreme camera movement and compositions, and pop music all throughout his movies. In other words, his films are put together a lot like music videos. This is too shallow for the pretentious of today’s critics, who demand slower, more pensive filmmaking if they are to declare a movie anything more than competent entertainment.

These critics were unhappy with Slumdog Millionaire‘s Best Picture win at the Oscars in 2008 and were no doubt just as upset that this montage director won for Best Director. But the film even more deserving of these accolades was 2007′s Sunshine, Boyle’s fabulous flight into the rickety world of serious science fiction. Sadly, this UK production never got the distribution of Slumdog in the US, and it never got the attention, good or bad, of the world.

Sunshine is serious sci-fi and serious filmmaking to the extreme. It is not fantasy, but what I would call realistic sci-fi, like 2001 before it. It tells the story of eight astronauts of the future, Earth’s last best hope, as they fly towards our dying sun in an attempt to re-ignite its fires so that humanity does not perish in an endless winter. Their payload is a huge stellar bomb, with a mass equal to that of Manhattan Island, to which their living quarters are strapped. The front of this ship, Icarus II, is a huge, circular shield, the only thing that protects the heroes and the payload from the merciless light and heat of humanity’s star. After the obligatory distress signal, in this case from their long-lost predecessors on the missing Icarus I, things begin to go wrong and lives are lost. The most basic question the film raises is whether or not our protagonists will choose to fight until the end, in the face of death, to save the homes and loved ones they left behind.

 

Does anyone know how to change the channel?

But the film raises other questions too, and they all radiate from the same source: the sun, towards which the astronauts are flying. It grows bigger and brighter in the view port every day; it seems to drive mad those of the crew who gaze into it. So what is Sunshine really about? It is, perhaps, most enjoyable to view it as the aforementioned adventure story of perseverance, bravery, and self-sacrifice. But is it not about the quest for truth, and the horrors involved in knowing the whole truth about life and existence, as embodied in the madness of those who look into our source of light? The light of the sun functions as a metaphor for the cinema itself, as the very movie screen in a darkened theater (or living room) lights up the area and the faces of the audience, like the sun itself, more than once during Sunshine’s run time. Is Boyle sending a ship to re-ignite the flame of world cinema?

Sunshine can be all these things, but after all the flashy sizzling it Boyles down to an atheistic morality play. The sun is the face of God, the god that Boyle does not in reality believe in, and the humans aboard Icarus must make a choice, to either defy His will with their science and technology, to preserve humanity past His desired extinction, or to embrace His will as final and give up. The crew’s physicist, Capa (Cillian Murphy), is fully aware of the weight of this choice by the film’s end. So is another character, Pinbacker (Mark Strong), but his decision counters Capa’s, and thus the film is plunged into its much-maligned and misunderstood climax, in which the monster-like Pinbacker chases the crew around to kill them and prevent the mission’s success. It is the central theme of the sun representing God that creates this situation, and therefore the alleged tonal shift into Horror is justified.

So, while containing a compelling story, is the film better or worse for Boyle’s directing style? Sunshine looks and sounds wonderful, fully modern in its

The Beautiful Struggle

special effects, fully convincing in its production values, and fully moving in the music video moments that Boyle creates. It has one of my favorite montages in the history of cinema, a section I myself call “The Beautiful Struggle,” as Capa continues, alone, to stumble towards his goal in a clumsy zero gravity suit, while the theme song “Surface of the Sun” from composer John Murphy blares. The story could have been told by anyone, but only Danny Boyle would tell it like this. His ability to move the audience through the use of montage, of images edited in conjunction with sound and music, is unrivaled.

The stars shine bright in Sunshine, not just Murphy, but Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai) as the captain, Kaneda, and Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger) in his best film performance as tough pilot Mace. The music by John Murphy and the band Underworld is beautiful. The art direction, and the thought put into the science and space travel, is astounding. This film is my favorite by Boyle, a director who always holds my respect., truly buried cinema, I believe it to be one of the ten best films of the last decade, though it probably wouldn’t appear even in the top 50 of most popular critics. Nevertheless, Sunshine is radiant.